Paris has it all….part 2

On my Euro-Trip I had tried many times to visit photography galleries or exhibitions featuring photography or photographers, but each time my good intentions were thwarted for one reason or another. Sometimes I arrived in a city on a day that the gallery didn’t open, or one exhibition had just finished and they were taking it down in readiness for the next, or it was reserved for a private showing, or the gallery had closed permanently, or it had moved to other premises…….and the other premises, even when armed with Google maps were impossible to locate.

It was a pleasant surprise then, during my week in Paris to view several exhibitions of photography and photographs. I almost went into shock!

The first gallery we visited was “A Gallery” as in Gallery “A”.
A. Gallery on Rue Léonce Reynaud, 4 – is a small gallery on the ground floor. Located in the 16th arrondissement, close to Pont de l’Alma, between the Palais de Tokyo and the Fondation Yves Saint-Laurent – no fee to look around. At the time there was an exhibition titled Best of the West featuring several top photographers. Photo portraits were of the likes of Mike Tyson, Barak Obama, Steve McQueen, Al Pacino, David Bowie etc. Quality detailed large format prints – very nicely displayed. The guy in charge of the gallery barely looked up when we walked in – he’d obviously realised with a mere glance at us that we were not there to buy, only to look.

Another gallery – Gallery Les Douches – is on a back street at 5 Rue Legouvé. When we arrived, the door was locked, but press the buzzer and they let you in. The gallery is on the first floor – no lift,  so no use for wheelchairs. Again it was free of charge and featured photos by two women photographers – Vivian Maier and Berenice Abbott.

Unlike at Gallery A, the staff here were very welcoming and issued us with brochures of the photographs on display and pointed us in the right direction. As well as the photos on the walls, there were also tables with photography books and we were invited to sit and peruse the books for as long as we liked.

I had not heard of Abbott before – she got her start in photography as a dark room assistant to Man Ray.
Man Ray wanted someone who had never been involved in photography before, so he could mould them to his way of doing things. She learned how he set up his photo shoots and went on from there to be a photographer in her own right……and a good one at that. After learning from Man Ray, she set up her own studio in Paris before re-locating to New York, which is where she came into her own as a photographer. Most of her more iconic photos were taken in the period between the two world wars. 

Abbott’s Manhattan Skyline – March 1936

Vivian Maier’s story is both amazing and sad at the same time. I have already mentioned her in an earlier post I wrote about women photographers. She was an unknown in the photographic world almost until her death. During her life she would come to amass a group of storage lockers stuffed to the brim with found items, art books, newspaper clippings, home films, as well as over 30,000 negatives and 3,000 prints and a huge quantity of undeveloped, exposed film. Due to non-payment of rent on her storage lockers, her property was forfeit and auctioned off.

Most of which was purchased – as an unknown item – by one John Maloof for the princely sum of US$400 at auction in Chicago in 2007.

Thankfully Maloof, a history and photography buff, went to great lengths (and personal expense)  to get Maier’s images out into the world.

At this time Vivian was still alive but almost destitute – bouncing from homelessness to a small studio apartment paid for by a family that she once worked for. In 2008 she slipped on a patch of ice and sustained a head injury. Although expected to recover she died in a nursing home in April 2009. She had no family.

I had already seen the documentary film – finding Vivian Maier and purchased one of the books of her photographs so I knew quite a lot about her. Her speciality was documentary / street photography. She worked as a nanny and would take the children in her care on field trips around the city and photograph anything that took her fancy. By accident almost she ended up documenting, in her photographs, over 40 years of american history. And yes….I am a fan.

The final photography gallery we visited was Maison Europeenne de la Photographie, Ville de Paris at 5/7 Rue de Fourcy, 75004 Paris. For the first time on this trip we had to queue (40 minutes) to get into a photo gallery……and pay 8 euros to get in.

But there were exhibits by 7 different photographers over several floors of the building…..the star of which was Herb Ritts.

Ritts was a friend of Richard Gere before either of them became famous. He took photos of Gere which later gave him a foot in the door of the world of photographing celebrities. In the 80’s and 90’s he took photos of many celebrities and also took a series of fashion and nude photographs of fashion models Naomi Campbell, Stephanie Seymour, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington, and Cindy Crawford. He worked mainly in black and white and made some iconic images. Sadly on December 26, 2002, Ritts died of complications from pneumonia at the age of 50. 

So after having not much luck at finding photo galleries on the rest of this trip I almost overdose on them here in Paris. Wonderful!

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Paris has it all. (Part one…)

My first ever overseas trip was a school exchange trip – to live with a German family in the town of Arnsberg in what was, at the time, West Germany. I was fourteen years old and although I was initially homesick and found actual spoken German, rather than school boy German, difficult to understand – in the end I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and became well and truly bitten by the travel bug.

Since then I have travelled all over Europe, the UK, the Mediterranean area including a couple of north African countries, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, a few of the Pacific Islands, The USA, Canada and Mexico. I don’t have heaps of money so usually this means travelling on a tight budget – even backpacking and hitch hiking. Naturally I have my favourite places – places I would willingly return to time and time again. In general I try to avoid some of the busiest cities – countries capitals – BUT I must admit to having a love affair with the French capital Paris.

Getting an eyeful of the Eifel Tower

For me, Paris has everything. My passions are writing, photography, art, travel – not to mention good wine and rich strong coffee. Paris offers up all these and more. It’s been a magnet for writers and artists, connoisseurs of fine wines and foods, travellers, poets and of course, being the city of romance – lovers. 

All the best writers of old had lived and written in Paris – F Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway to name but two. Of course France produced many famous writers of its own including Proust, Dumas, Flaubert, Sartre and we can’t miss out Voltaire. Paris was and is still a breeding ground for literature, philosophy, art, fashion and new ideas of all kinds

I have only visited Paris once, for a week, back in 2016, but I am smitten. We stayed in a small AirBnB apartment in the 17th arrondissment. It was basic, but clean and tidy and served our needs – and being in the 17th it was far enough off the tourist track for us to be away from most of the hustle and bustle. By this time, we had been on the road for about four months, so had become adept at living on a budget and sourcing and cooking our own food – although we did indulge ourselves in the cafes and patisseries. Who can resist French pastries? 
We had started our journey in early July of 2016, setting off from New Zealand with our backpacks and romantic ideas of travel. By the time we reached Berlin at the end of August, any ideas that travelling with backpacks was romantic had been kicked into touch and our packs had been swapped for suitcases with wheels – why carry when you can wheel? Paris was our last stop in mainland europe before catching the Eurostar train under the English channel to England. Despite having lived in England for my first almost 30 years of life I had avoided visiting France. Now because of my interest of writing and books, and having recently seen the Woody Allen film “Midnight in Paris” I was quite keen to visit the “City of Lights”…..and track down some of the places that the movie was filmed.
 
We did a lot of the things on most tourists lists – went to see the Eifel Tower, Notre Dame, Arc de Triumph, Sacre Coeur, the museums and galleries, visited Printemps the big department store – partly to shop for a berret (the wife is so cliched) but also to visit the rooftop cafe which has some of the best views of Paris over the rooftops. The only downside was that on the day we went up to the roof it was overcast so Paris was not photographed at her best. However, what we enjoyed the most was just meandering through the streets and alleyways particularly around Montmartre – visiting the cemeteries and the final resting places of the famous (including writers – Proust and Wilde and composers Bizet and Chopin…and Jim Morrison of the Doors) and of course strolling the left bank of the Seine – perusing the wares of the book sellers lining the bank. Or simply enjoying a coffee in a cafe and watching the world rush by.

One of my highlights was visiting Shakespeare & Company book shop (twice). What an awesome book shop. A warren of rooms, packed bookshelves, books piled in every space, little sayings and quotes printed on the walls and stairs, and of course just breathing in the history of the place. The building used to be part of a 17th century monastery, although this particular shop was only opened in the 1950’s. Many famous writers, actors and artists have graced its rooms – Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Anaïs Nin, Richard Wright, William Styron, Julio Cortázar, Henry Miller, William Saroyan, Lawrence Durrell, James Jones, and James Baldwin were some of the first. As an english language book shop in the heart of Paris, it became a haven for American and British ex-pats. Some have even slept there amongst the books, early in their careers (such as Ethan Hawke and Geoffrey Rush) or when down on their luck. From day one owner George Whitman encouraged writers and artists to seek shelter in his shop – a place to sleep and eat a meagre meal, in exchange for a couple of hours of work (and they also had to write a short bio and promise to read a book a day while living there). It’s been estimated that over 30,000 people, over the years the shop has been in business, have taken up the offer of food and shelter. It’s been owned by the same family throughout. Opened by George Whitman in 1951 (originally under the name of Le Mistral) and run either by him or under his watchful eye until he died in 2011 aged 98. His daughter Sylvia – named after Sylvia Beach, who founded the original Shakespeare & Company in 1919 on rue de l’Odeon – took over management of the shop in 2006. In 1964 on Shakespeare’s 4ooth birthday, and with the blessing of Sylvia Beach, the name of the shop was changed to what it is today – Shakespeare & Company. On my first visit, to the shop, I bought “My Brain on Fire” by Leonard Pitt – about his experiences living in Paris as a young man. Of his struggles to become a writer, living in a garret – naturally – and his mishaps in romance. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and read it before leaving Paris, it was so enthralling. I was lucky enough to get a signed copy.

On my second visit a few days later I bought the book about the shop – “Shakespeare & Company Paris” and subtitled “A History of the Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart”. It’s been compiled partly from George Whitman’s notes and letters and partly by the many many people who have lived and worked in the shop over the years. It has photos, notes, receipts, short biographies and notices throughout its pages – edited by Krista Halverson – it’s a delightful book to own and to read. It gives a real understanding of life in the shop – bedbugs and all – and provides a window into the eccentricity of an interesting, passionate and complex man who’s dream and life this shop became. It is available from the many on-line retailers but my advice would be to go to the shop yourself, pick up a copy and absorb some of that magical atmosphere.

The two books purchased from Shakespeare & Co.

Part two to follow soon…….

Inspirational Photographers – their books on my shelf….

I was given my first camera before I reached my teens. It was a simple point and shoot Kodak film camera, but it was the start of my love affair with photography. For birthdays and Christmas presents I’d sometimes receive money and that would go straight in the money box to upgrade eventually to an SLR, but the only one in my price range was a Russian Zenith brand camera. I bought it anyway, despite it’s poor reviews in camera mags. More money came in and I added an extra lens and some filters. It just felt right….having the SLR and a big lens on shooting wildlife in the woods. The resulting photos were OK….better than I could get with the point and shoot so I was happy.

In my mid teens, after school and on weekends I worked at the local supermarket and eventually saved enough money to buy a “real” camera. I’d been awestruck by celebrity photographer of the day David Bailey, who didn’t just photograph the “jet set” – he was part of it. He was one of the biggest stars around and photographed anyone who was at the top of their profession. Movie stars, rock stars, top models, celebrities of all types, world leaders….all the movers and shakers were photographed by David Bailey. So, when I saw him on T.V. advertising the Olympus OM10 SLR I knew I had to have it.

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I wasn’t disappointed. It was a nice camera. Much lighter and better quality than the Zenith and a stylier look too. It came with a standard 50mm lens. I got my first zoom lens to go with it and then added a wide angle lens and I was all set up. Of course that was longer ago than I care to admit and over the years I moved with the times…..dabbled with Polaroid instant photos in addition to the OM10….had a go with a few other film cameras in various formats (including a twin lens reflex that produced square nagatives) and eventually when the quality of digital photography reached an acceptable level I made the switch to digital – DSLR’s. Firstly Fujifilm digital cameras – in fact I still occasionally use my Fuji HS10 which has a wonderful 24 – 720mm lens. The only real let down is the speed of focus (and the size of the sensor). It produces some nice clear and bright images.
At the moment I have a couple of Nikon bodies and lenses in my camera bag. BUT this article isn’t about me and my cameras it’s about the photographers I admire or who influenced me over the years. Yes Bailey was the first, so when I came across his book “Locations” in a local book store I bought it for old times sake. Turning over the pages I see again what attracted me to his style of photography – the glamour and the “beautiful people” – and yet it now seems somewhat tawdry (false, showy but cheap).

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The above pic shows a German Language version of the book. I have the English version. Actually, and not meaning to be unkind to the lady on the front of the book but, you wouldn’t know from the cover that he was a glamour photographer. He was famous for having affairs with a number of his models and even married two of them. In 1975 he married American fashion model and writer Marie Helvin; and in 1986 the model Catherine Dyer (born 20 July 1961), to whom he remains married. One of his most famous books featuring photos of Helvin in various stages of undress was “Trouble and Strife”.

These days I have a number of photographic heroes and heroines. The Heroines I already touched on in an earlier post, so I’ll talk about the male photographers and the books of theirs that grace my bookcases and coffee table.
My passions – other than writing – are photography and travel, so no surprise that one of my favourite photographers – probably my overall favourite – is Steve McCurry, who’s photo “Afghan Girl” shot him to stardom.

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Above “Afghan Girl” photo on left and McCurry on right. His photo of “the Afghan Girl” graced both the cover of National Geographic magazine and at least one (if not more) Nat Geo hard cover book “The Photographs”….which I also have on my bookshelf.

He tends to work in Asia a lot, particularly India where he makes the most of the vibrant colours. I don’t think that there is a photographer any better when it comes to colour photography. He has an eye for the right shot and will scope out a setting for a long time waiting for the right person wearing the right colours to walk by a particular scene. The brightly coloured saris and the pastel coloured buildings in India are perfect subjects for him to photograph. I have a number of his books including “The Path to Buddha”, “Untold – the stories behind the photographs” and a small format Phaidon book simply titled “Steve McCurry”.

 


The “Untold” book is a wonderful insight into a photographers world and gives the back story on how many of his popular photos came to be taken. I also have a thick, large format book “Magnum” – no not the TV show – about the Magnum Photo Agency – which features McCurry’s work and also have several hardcover National Geographic books which have several of his photos. I’d also love to own a copy of his book “Monsoon” – photographed in India naturally.
Talking of “Monsoon”….New Zealand photographer and fellow Magnum Photo Agency member Brian Brake has a book of the same name – shot in India which has a number of excellent photos, BUT without wanting to offend any Brian Brake fans out there, although he is a very good photographer, in my opinion, he comes second to McCurry.

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The above photo is both inside and on the cover of his book. The photo initially received rave reviews – until it came out that he had actually set up the shot. It seemed on the surface that it was a shot of a girl lifting her face to the rains of the monsoon – BUT he’d set it up with an assistant holding a hose on a ladder and having his model pose under the hose. Either way, it’s still a very nice shot. I have Brake’s “Monsoon” along side another of his books “Lens on the World” beside my Steve McCurry books, on my book case, in my office.

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“Lens on the World” covers a huge range of Brakes photos throughout his career.

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I have just the one book by Helmut Newton – “Polaroids”. I have been in awe of Newton’s statuesque nudes for years. He also photographs celebrities, rock stars etc. When I was in Paris in 2016 I saw an exhibition of his huge format photos at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie – located at n. 5, Rue de Fourcy. It was only when I saw these huge, larger than life prints up close – the clarity was amazing – that I realised what a good photographer he is… or I should say was. Although most of the prints at the exhibition were in black and white he also worked in colour. I suppose I’d have to put him in the same catagory as David Bailey – a glamour and glamorous photographer, who lived the lifestyle of the rich and the famous.

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Elliot Erwitt’s Paris“. I had to buy this book – by one of my favourite photographers – of photos of one of my favourite cities in the world.

Elliott Erwitt (yet another member of Magnum) – classed as an American photographer but born in France -for me is one of the finest photographers at “capturing the moment”. It’s a real skill out on the street to capture the right shot at the right time. One second too early or one second too late and the shot is meaningless. Hit the shot in the sweet spot and you have as Henri Cartier-Bresson’s coined it “captured the decisive moment”. He enjoys taking photos of the absurd….loves getting down to the level of dogs (he loves to photograph dogs and has an entire book of dog photos)…and really has fun with his camera. Which is why, now in his 90’s, he is still putting out books of his work. He has often said he has never worked a day in his life….taking photos is a joy not a job. Two examples of his work are below.

 

 

Another master of Street Photography – another Frenchman – Robert Doisneau is another of my favourites. Probably his most famous photo is also his most infamous photo. Doisneau is renowned for his 1950 image Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville (Kiss by the Town Hall), a photograph of a couple kissing on a busy Parisian street.

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Initially hailed as a masterpiece of “catching the moment” – it was later revealed that it was posed specially for the photographer to get the shot. Posed or not, it’s still a great photo and graces the cover of the Taschen produced “Icons” (as in Icons of photography)book on my shelf. He, like Erwitt loved capturing comedic shots like the one below of a gendarme – captured at just the right moment.

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And to round things off I’ll just mention books I have of a couple of the pioneers of photography…Edward Weston – an American photographer who’s favoured photographic subjects were of nudes or of close up shots of peppers and shells although, in a career spanning 40 years, he also photographed a variety of still life, portraits and landscapes. He has been called one of the most influential and innovative of America’s photographers. Again, like Bailey his nude studies seemed to be of women he had relationships with, most famous of these was Tina Modetti – a stage and film actress who later became a photographer in her own right.

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His early photos were soft focus but as he progressed he became The Master of detailed photography producing incredibly clear images with what was at the time fairly primitive equipment.

…and finally no photographic library is complete without at least one book by Ansel Adams. Most famous for his photos of the Yosemite region of the USA – his photos of the great outdoors are legendary. He first visited Yosemite with his family back in 1916 when he was given his first camera, a box brownie, by his father. The rest, as they say, is history. As a professional photographer, working in large format he produced very clear detailed photos and like his fellow photographer Edward Weston was a founding member of the f/64 group of photographers. His work has been reproduced in books, magazines and calendars – and his images are still being used – even though he has been dead for over 30 years. True quality does not date.

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His book “400 photographs” is one of the books that I often look at for inspiration.

The above books are some of my favourite “go to” books when I need a photographic lift and are a small selection of my library of photographic books. I’m just testing the water here. If you’d like me to share more about my collection of photography books, please comment below.

Two Outstanding Women Photographers

While I don’t want to get into a discussion (argument) about male versus female roles in the job market. There are some jobs better suited to one gender than the other. There are jobs however that can be equally well performed by either gender and yet the oportunities for women in that field are sadly and wrongly lacking.

Photography was (hopefully is no longer) one of those professions. Fifty years ago there were not many women excelling in the photographic field. It was without a doubt a man’s domain.

However I just want to point you toward a couple of books that show that women were not only the equivalent of men as photographers – they could also outshine many of their male counterparts. And I write this as a male who is a keen photographer and have been since childhood.

The two women I want to bring to your attention – firstly Eve Arnold, who was involved with the world famous Magnum Photography Agency as early as 1951, becoming a full member in 1957.  Flicking through her book All About Eve – I realise that I have seen many of these iconic images before, but never knew they were taken by a female photographer, nor did I appreciate the effort and skill that went into capturing some of those images. Being a female photographer actually worked to her advantage particularly when dealing with other females who were to be the subjects of her photographs. She had a wonderful way about her – her patience and her caring nature – helped to put her “models” at ease. To quote Eve herself “If a photographer cares about the people before the lens and is compassionate, much is given. It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument”.

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She photographed all sorts of people – children, labourers, movie stars and heads of state. Her more famous subjects included the likes of Marilyn Monroe – with whom she had a special understanding and gained an amazing insight into her personal life, Paul Newman, Malcolm X, jazz entertainer Josephine Baker, the Eisenhowers etc. BUT she also photographed poverty and the down trodden. To quote from the book….“She produced picture assignments for magazines internationally, published books and exhibited worldwide. A blend of curiosity, discipline and moral courage would characterise her career which never settled for cliches or stereotypes”.

She was born in the USA and much of her early work takes place there, but after 1962 when she went to live in England, her photography was dominated by overseas projects particularly in China and she also photographed behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ in the USSR in the 1960`s.

The book was put together to celebrate Eve’s work on her 100th birthday. She died shortly after. (1912 – 2012).

The second photographer unlike Eve Arnold enjoyed no publicity of her work during her lifetime. In fact, very little is known of her life and yet she produced thousands of photographs.

In the book Vivian Maier – Street Photographer we are brought into Vivian`s world thanks to Historian, John Maloof who came into possession of several boxes of her prints, negatives and undeveloped film from an auction of stored property.

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All we get to know about Vivian is that she spent her life as a nanny to various children and part of her time was spent, camera in hand walking the streets and taking photos of anything that caught her eye…..sometimes with the children she was minding in tow.

As Geoff Dyer says on the back of her book “Vivian Maier represents an extreme instance of posthumous discovery; of someone who exists entirely in terms of what she saw. Not only was she entirely unknown in the photographic world, hardly anyone seemed to know that she even took photographs“.

Her legacy is a remarkable record of life, not only in America, but in France and other countries she visited over a period of more than forty years. We probably wouldn’t even know what she looked like if it wasn’t for her penchant for taking her own portrait as a reflection in shop windows.

She used a Rolleiflex camera, shooting from chest level – looking down into the view-finder so most people failed to realise that they were being photographed. This made for some interesting candid photos.

As it says in the books foreward “A good street photographer must be possessed of many talents: an eye for detail, light and composition: impeccable timing: a populist or humanitarian outlook: and a tireless ability to shoot shoot shoot

Amazingly Vivian had all these qualities but was entirely self taught. It’s scary to think that this body of work only came to the public eye by chance…. AND we are richer for it.  I was very fortunate to see an exhibition of her photos when I was in France a couple of years ago.

Both these photographers produced an outstanding body of work and their books are worthy of a prominent place on anyone’s book case.